Zach Lowe beats a dead moose


Joe Dumars won't call this a playoffs-or-bust season, so I will: It's a playoffs-or-bust season for Detroit, especially given the ripple effects of Okafor's injury and the general unpredictability of the rest of the morass. The challenge: Detroit cannot afford to fall behind after starting 4-20 in 2011-12 and 0-8 last season, and that means Maurice Cheeks has to work out a lot of dicey rotation questions quickly. Detroit will start the fascinating Josh Smith–Greg Monroe–Andre Drummond ultra-big trio, with an often inefficient point guard in Brandon Jennings orchestrating on what will be a very, very cramped floor. The last starting spot is up for grabs, and if Cheeks gives it to Rodney Stuckey, a non-shooter, Detroit's offense could crater. All three of Chauncey Billups, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Kyle Singler would be better options, and though Gigi Datome lacks the foot speed to play the position, Cheeks has to find minutes for him. Datome is a deadeye shooter on the wing who should also be able to play some small-ball power forward — perhaps rendering Jonas Jerebko expendable. Cheeks has to learn a lot of stuff, and quickly — the right balance between lineup types; the best wing combinations; whether the league will let him implant an electric shock device he can activate whenever Smith rises for a 20-footer; and how well the Monroe-Drummond frontcourt can work defensively. Detroit is another candidate for a "win now" trade, though it's tough to find any appealing bait if it doesn't dangle Monroe — perhaps expendable now, with Smith aboard and Monroe's agent, David Falk, almost certainly demanding a max contract.